James looks for Origin pointers in All Stars camp
Titans skipper Ryan James is hoping to get some insights that may push his case towards an Origin debut in 2017 during a week under NSW coach Laurie Daley and alongside a number of current Origin stars from both sides of the border.
James went from a promising but slightly-too-penalised forward into one of the best bookends in the competition last season, emerging as a genuine leader, breaking the record for most tries in a season by a prop while churning out mountains of metres and tackles.
It probably was only the depth in the NSW forward pack that stopped him getting a start in Origin in 2016 but the Bilambil Jets junior is hoping his week in All Stars camp to kick off 2017 is the first step to improving on last year's lofty standards and hoping to earn a sky blue jersey in 2017.
"That's definitely the benchmark, last year," James told NRL.com.
"You have to go out there and exceed it otherwise you're stuck in the mud. The goal last year was to play every game. This year it's to play every game but do it better.
"I still need to work on a couple of things around the ruck and work on a bit of an offload because I didn't get many of those last year.
"Just to get a full season under the belt was the goal at the start of last year. Obviously to try and play some representative footy would be the ultimate goal."
While many players defer questions about rep footy and fall back on a need to play well at club level and let the rest take care of itself, James is unafraid to reassert his representative ambitions.
"It is the goal and obviously being around some of the players that play Origin, you watch what they do, try and pick up little things they do and hang around the NSW boys," he said.
"We've got great Queenslanders in the team too, probably some of the best players to play the game in 'JT' (Johnathan Thurston) and 'GI' (Greg Inglis). I've been lucky enough to play with them for the last five years so you just try and learn from your elders and pick up the little things they do and put it into your game.
"It's just great to be in camp with some of those NSW boys so hopefully I can do it later in the year."
Those NSW players James is referring to include Andrew Fifta – the only one that also plays prop – as well as back-rower Wade Graham and centres Blake Ferguson and Jack Bird, who all look likely to stay in the NSW set-up in 2017.
And while James is hoping to pick up a few pointers for himself, as Titans skipper he is ecstatic to see young Gold Coast halfback Ash Taylor getting a week around Thurston.
"I'm very happy to see that Ash Taylor's been hanging off Johnathan Thurston all week because we need him to learn everything we can and bring it back to the club," James added.
"It's going to be great for Ash, he's been watching everything 'JT' does and it's going to be great for him growing up as a footballer.
"It was his first year last year, he got rookie of the year and I know the ability he has, he just has to make sure everything's right off the field and I'm sure he'll carry on to be a great footballer."
The All Stars fixture is a good place for many fringe Origin players to press their claims; in addition to James the likes of Tyrone Peachey, Jack Wighton and Latrell Mitchell will also get a chance. But it's Titans hooker Nathan Peats who arguably has the most to gain as the likely next cab off the rank in terms of the NSW No.9 jersey after Robbie Farah.
"I think Peatsy's a great hooker and he's one of those guys I always rely on," James said.
"He's next to me in the middle and when I look across in the middle he's always there so when he's leading the pack like that I know I can trust him. When you have trust in someone there's not much more you can ask for."